A STRIKE wave is set to hit schools, colleges and universities across the UK during the summer as teachers and lecturers vote overwhelmingly in favour of ‘sustained industrial action’ to defeat attacks by education bosses and the Tory government on their jobs, pensions, pay and conditions.
University and College Union (UCU) members at the University of Liverpool on Friday 9th April voted overwhelmingly to take strike action against job cuts.
84% of members who voted supported strike action, with 90% backing action short of a strike.
The university is planning to slash up to 47 teaching and research jobs in the faculty of health and life sciences, with world-leading academics – including those doing work on Covid treatment – at risk of being made redundant.
The proposed job cuts follow a long-standing dispute between UCU and university management over the use of flawed data on research and grant income to assess performance.
These metrics are now being used to select for redundancy.
This practice has been widely criticised by experts, including the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) and the authors of the Leiden Manifesto for Research Metrics.
UCU said that the job cuts are shameful and unnecessary, and ridiculed university management’s claim that slashing staff will improve research performance.
The union said it is united in anger and opposition to the cuts, and that the overwhelming vote in favour of strike action shows its members at Liverpool are prepared for sustained industrial action.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘This outstanding ballot result shows that our members at the University of Liverpool are ready to strike in solidarity with those whose jobs and livelihoods are at risk, and they now have an overwhelming mandate to do so.
‘These job cuts are shameful, unnecessary and completely self-defeating.
‘The university’s claim that slashing staff will improve research performance is absurd, and shows how detached management has become.
‘It’s not too late for the university to reverse these plans for compulsory redundancies, avoiding strike action and further damage to its reputation. We urge it to change course.’
University of Liverpool UCU branch president Anthony O’Hanlon said: ‘This is the largest industrial ballot action turnout in the history of the branch and sends an emphatic message that this brutal and senseless attack on jobs will not be tolerated.
‘There is still time for management to step away from these disastrous proposals.
‘If it fails to do so, there will be sustained industrial action.’
Strike action is also near at United Colleges Group in a row over changes to agreed contracts imposed by management that will see workloads increase.
99% of UCU members who voted said they are prepared to take strike action, with 100% of members who voted saying they are prepared to take action short of strike.
At the start of the 2020 autumn term, college management unilaterally imposed changes to existing terms and conditions by removing timetabled non-teaching hours for teaching staff.
These terms and conditions are part of the contract the college agreed with UCU following the merger of the College of North West London and City of Westminster College in 2017.
UCU accused management of attempting to re-write history by tearing up collective agreements, and expressed concern that this top-down managerialism may only be the tip of the iceberg.
The union called on the employer to resolve the dispute and avoid strike action.
The changes have already seen an extra hour per week of teaching added to timetables and a significant increase in workload for staff, as well as meaning lost hours and pay for hourly paid staff, due to the addition of teaching hours to the timetable for full-time and fractional lecturers.
Negotiations with UCG Group management to explore a resolution to the dispute are expected to resume after the Easter holidays.
UCU regional official Adam Lincoln said: ‘Our members have voted to strike over detrimental changes to contracts by United Colleges Group and we urge management to use planned negotiations to resolve this dispute and avoid industrial action.
‘With the employer imposing detrimental changes to contracts and increasing the workload of already over stretched staff we have been left with little choice but to call for industrial action.
‘Our members won’t stand for it. We will fight to secure decent terms and conditions.’
Meanwhile, UCU has accused Universities UK (UUK) of proposing unnecessary and damaging cuts to USS (Universities Superannuation Scheme) pensions ‘at a time when the scheme and the universities supporting it could afford to take a more progressive approach’.
The union was responding to UUK’s consultation of employers on their response to the contribution rates proposed by the USS Trustee for the 2020 valuation.
UCU said employers should deliver on previous promises to challenge the USS trustee’s underlying assumptions, instead of attempting to slash scheme members’ benefits.
The union warned that its members are likely to vote for more industrial action if universities fail to make radical improvements to UUK’s initial proposals.
UCU general secretary Grady said: ‘UUK plans to cut the guaranteed, defined benefit element of members’ pensions are almost identical to the ones which they put forward and which members rejected midway through UCU’s 2018 industrial action – and they come at an even higher price in terms of employer and member contributions.
‘Their proposals to address the high rate of staff opting out of the scheme are vague and will not be implemented in time to prevent the drastic contribution increases that are already scheduled for October 2021.
‘UUK claims that they “will continue pressing the USS trustee to reconsider its valuation assumptions”, but we have yet to see concrete evidence of their commitment to doing so. If anything, they have de-escalated from their previous stance.
‘Since our last round of industrial action, UUK has spent over a year in talks and negotiations assuring UCU that they will confront USS over its unilateral, poorly evidenced approach to setting contribution rates.
‘But the response of UUK to USS’s refusal of their request for a review of the 2020 valuation has been weak, to say the least.
‘UUK is talking about strengthening the employer covenant, but the concessions which they are asking USS to make in return for this are far too small.
‘There will be months of further negotiations and lobbying. But as it stands, employers have offered very little to dissuade members from voting for another round of industrial action.
‘USS is a uniquely robust defined benefit pension scheme, backed by many strong employers in a financially healthy and world-renowned sector of the UK’s economy.
‘University staff deserve much better than the weak commitments and half-baked proposals which employers are putting forward.’
- UCU members at the University of Leicester are being balloted on whether to take industrial action in defence of jobs.
University management have been threatening 145 staff with compulsory redundancy. Although that number is now slightly lower as a result of some taking ‘voluntary’ redundancy or accepting inferior contracts – a large number of livelihoods remain at risk.
Managers deny there are any financial reasons for planned redundancies – but they are refusing to share with campus trade unions data on finances.
In a consultative ballot, two-thirds (67%) of Leicester UCU members who voted indicated they are prepared to take industrial action including strike action to contest the executive’s plans; almost four-fifths (79%) are prepared to take industrial action short of a strike.
Leicester UCU branch officers are confident this overwhelming support for industrial action will be replicated in the official ballot they have now triggered.
Dr Deborah Toner, Leicester UCU campaigns officer, said: ‘In nine years working at the University of Leicester, I’ve never seen staff morale so low. I am daily reminded of the absolute brilliance of our students, even in the hardest of circumstances. But they are being betrayed by the morally bankrupt decisions from the top, who are slashing and burning.’
UCU general secretary, Grady said: ‘Current events at University of Leicester are only the most egregious example of what we’re seeing across the sector.
‘Vice-chancellors and other leaders wholly lacking in imagination and basic competence, rabbits caught in the glare of metrics and the rhetoric of competition, beholden to financial markets.’
- The largest education union in the country, the NEU (National Education Union), has said it will survey its members to ‘build towards a ballot for national strike action’ if its pay demands are not met.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced last year that school staff earning over £24,000 a year won’t receive a pay rise in 2021, while those earning below the threshold will receive a rise of at least £250.
The NEU, along with leadership unions the NAHT (National Association of Head Teachers), the ASCL (Association of School and College Leaders) and teaching union Voice, rejected the pay freeze in February, urging the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB), which makes recommendations on teacher pay, to defy the government and propose a rise.
The NEU annual conference passed a motion earlier this month instructing the union’s executive to submit a claim to the STRB to ‘restore real terms pay to 2010 levels for teachers within three years, with a 2021 pay award of at least seven per cent’. The union will also support a ‘similar claim for support staff’.
Should the government not meet the union’s demands, the motion directs the union to ‘use surveys of members to build towards a ballot for national strike action at an appropriate time, with all tactical options considered’, while seeking the involvement of other trade unions ‘where possible’.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, described the government’s pay freeze as ‘unjustified and unfair,’ adding: ‘Education staff are key workers who have contributed hugely to the country’s pandemic response, but this year they face another significant cut to the real value of their pay against inflation following a decade of previous attacks on their pay.’